You Will Freeze and Die!!!
I’m walking my Alaskan Husky, Swix, on a frozen lake, and the ice sounds like Styrofoam. The ice is still stable, but we’re heading into the shoulder season and it will melt (or "go out") in a few weeks.
In the winter, the ice gets thick enough to support an ice road around the lake strong enough to hold heavy fuel trucks.
Tonight, parts of the road make this eerie creaking sound as we walk. I logically know it’s just ice doing what ice does, but I still don't like it. The creaky areas are too big to walk around so I have to walk through them.
My heart races and I hold my breath as I attempt to run/tiptoe/fly across each section while trying to look totally cool about the whole thing.
“I’m going to fall through the ice and die!” says one part of my brain.
“Um, you drove a 500-pound snowmachine around the lake yesterday,” says another part.
“What if I fall through and can’t find my way out? Do I look for white or black ice? I can’t remember. Oh god, I'm going to die!!”
“Calm down! Swix is walking ahead of you. He weighs at least half of what you do and nothing under you is moving. You are fine.”
“What if I do break through? I’ll freeze and DIE!!!”
“Seriously, you measured more than 20 inches of ice yesterday, most of it strong and clear, and you are within sight of everyone on the lake. You are holding a leash hooked to a sled dog who is bred to pull your arm out of its socket. Whatever the case, freaking out wouldn’t prevent you from falling in or save you if you do.”
Back and forth, the sections of my brain argue. Knowing which argument to believe, the terrified or the dismissive, is also a ping-ponging debate. In reality, it’s not either/or: they both have elements of truth.
Fear comes from the part of the brain designed to keep us alive. It's good, but it’s important to know how it functions.
It’s designed to alert us to all potential dangers. “Hey! Over there, something moved. Hey! Did you hear that? Hey! Did you see how she looked at you?” It’s like a German short-haired pointer on speed.
Fear can save us. Say when we encounter a cougar. Or actually unstable ice.
But realistically, most of the moments of our lives are pretty safe and ordinary. They don’t really require code-red-plaid-pants warning status.
Nevertheless, twenty-four hours a day, our brains scan for danger the way your Smartphone scans for a wireless signal.
You might think that turning off the alert system would be the best solution. But consider this: what if a cougar does leap through your car door and wants your sandwich? You’ll need this handy little design feature if you want to hang onto your lunch.
One option is to believe all of the warnings and march yourself into full-blown-terror land (which is a totally human thing to do), or you can test your fears to see if they are real or false (or a mix of the two).
Martha Beck teaches the simplest way to decide if your fear is real or not.
True fear is calm; false fear is anxious.
Think about it. When you are in real danger, your mind gets incredibly clear and you have energy you didn’t know you had. There aren’t a lot of thoughts racing through your head. You don’t sit around debating. You simply act.
That’s your fight/flight/freeze/faint/fawn feature in all its stunning glory. It’s FAST, it’s exact and it saves you from cougars.
False fear fa-ree-eeea-ks out. It chatters, paces around, wrings its hands and keeps you up till 3am running "what if" scenarios.
I checked the ice charts after my evening on ice and found there was enough to hold a 1-ton truck.
But I knew my fears were false even before I double checked the chart because I felt my mind in overdrive panicking about it. Panic and worry are telltale signs of false fear for me.
Testing your fears sounds simple, but it takes bravery. I encourage you to start small. The same way you start lifting weights.
Check out a small fear like being afraid to not finish all the food your mom put on your plate. A legitimate fear: did you live through it?
I’ll join you. Frogs really do scare the crap out of me, but I’ll stand within 500 feet of a picture of a small tree frog and see if it jumps on my face and suffocates me to death. (I know, right?)
Testing small fears lets you grow strong enough to take on bigger and bigger fears. Fears like saying "no" to the promotion that is wrong for you, saying "yes" to a project that will stretch you or telling your father that you’ve just quit your job to start your own helicopter company.
Stepping into work you love, going for that dream job, will undoubtedly bring up your deepest fears. That's why it’s worth making a regular practice of overcoming your fears little by little. So you can achieve your biggest dreams.
I invite you to test one small fear today.